Each year I am privileged to meet thousands of women in law enforcement at various training events and conferences and every one of them has a story. It’s interesting to see who is successful, who enjoys their life and their career, and who is angry, bitter, and unhappy. Some women just seem to sail through the most terrible of circumstances and bounce right back, and others absolutely fall apart when the slightest inconvenience occurs. Most of it comes down to this: it’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it. In other words, how resilient are you?
Tragedy happens in police work. We get shot at, run over, beat up, stabbed, and everything in between. We also witness things that are incomprehensible to the normal human psyche, such as fathers who molest their children, mothers who murder their babies, and people who kill cops for no reason at all. We also get accused of doing things we didn’t do, we get disciplined for doing stupid things we didn’t mean to do, and we often deal with co-workers, supervisors and managers who seem to completely determined to make us miserable. The reality of law enforcement is this: what tends to cause us the most stress is not violence, trauma, or general human debasement, its “administrative stress,” or how we perceive we are being treated by the agency. This becomes especially tough for female cops, because as much as I’d like to reassure everyone that it’s 2011 and there are no longer gender inequities in this profession, I can’t. On some agencies women still get treated differently, and there are individual police officers and supervisors who still believe that women have no place in law enforcement beyond the dispatch center and the records division. In other words, as my mother used to say, “life’s not fair.”
So how do we deal with the inequities and still get good police word done? We become “resilient!” Dr. Al Siebert’s follow up to his outstanding book “The Survivor Personality” addresses how we can train ourselves to become more resilient so that when adversity does happen in our lives, we are more than ready to deal with it. This book is called “The Resiliency Advantage” and it belongs in the library of every cop on the planet, male or female. Think about how you to react to adversity. Do you freak out, shut down, get angry, become ill? We all react differently in different situations, but we need to make sure that we don’t allow ourselves to become hopeless victims, just moving through our career (and our life) reacting to whatever comes next and wondering “why me?” You’ve got to take control of your own reactions, something much easier said than done but essential to your resiliency.
Police work puts us in a paradoxical situation. We are thrust into a paramilitary setting where we are expected to dress alike, obey orders, and leave most of our decision-making skills at the door. Generally speaking, cops are told what to drive, when to eat, and very often, what to think. Questioning the thought processes and decisions of our superiors is often viewed as insubordination. I’ve seen more than a few police managers with that old sign in their office that says “If I Want Your Opinion, I’ll Ask For It,” and they’re not kidding. Despite what the public thinks, we often have limited autonomy…that is until the S#&T hits the fan. Then we are expected to make those life and death, million dollar decisions all by ourselves, and do it within policy, out of public view, and in a manner that makes the chief a hero to both the press and the city counsel. No wonder cops are crabby.